Health Problems with Rats
Common Diseases of Rats
By Maggie Wood, DVM
All photos and
edited by Susan Horton, DVM
infections are one of the most common health problems of rats.
They can be caused by a variety of bacteria and viruses.
Symptoms that may be seen include increased respiratory
noise, sneezing, nasal discharge, faster respiratory rate, labored
breathing, and red tears. The
red tears are not blood, but a pigment that rats secrete when they
are stressed called porphyrin.
Some respiratory infections resolve completely with
antibiotics and do not recur.
However, there are other infections that become more
infections are often caused by Mycoplasma, which is a bacteria
that is difficult to eradicate permanently.
Rats with chronic infections frequently have relapses of
symptoms and need repeated treatments.
These respiratory infections are contagious, so if you have
a rat that is a chronic carrier, it is better not to introduce new
rats into the household. Pictured below is a rat with a
severely swollen nose. He had a severe upper respiratory
Mites are also
common in rats. Signs
may include itching, flaky skin, hair loss, redness, and
irritation of the skin. Symptoms
can range from very mild to severe, depending on the degree of the
mite infestation. Mites
may also cause secondary skin infections, especially if the rats
are itchy and scratching their skin a lot. Pictured below is
a rat with scabs and hair loss.
Mammary tumors occur
frequently in female rats. This
is the equivalent of rat ďbreast cancerĒ.
Since rats have multiple sets of nipples, the tumors can be
anywhere along the ratís chest or belly and can be single or
multiple. They start
out as a small lump, but if not removed, they can grow into a very
large tumor quickly. Most
of the tumors are benign, which means they usually donít spread
to other organs in the body. However
some of them can be malignant.
Even though most of the tumors are benign, if the tumors
are not removed while they are still small, they will continue to
grow and eventually be so large that they interfere with the
ratís quality of life and would require a longer, more extensive
surgery to remove. Therefore,
it is recommended to have them surgically removed while they are
Rats can also have
dental problems. Their
front teeth grow continually through their lifetime.
In a normal rat, the top teeth will hit the bottom teeth
and therefore, their teeth are constantly ground down even though
they are growing. Some
rats have crooked or misaligned teeth, usually either from a
genetic defect or trauma. In
these rats, some or all of the teeth do not occlude normally and
will overgrow, often in an abnormal direction.
These rats will need to have their teeth frequently trimmed
by a veterinarian. The
problem may be obvious, especially if the teeth protrude out of
the mouth, but more subtle signs can include difficulty chewing or
decreased appetite. We treat rat dental disease routinely at
In addition to the
common rat diseases listed above, it is important to remember that
rats are also susceptible to the same health problems that affect
most other pets, such as heart disease and kidney disease.
Therefore, it is recommended to have regular checkups and
to have your rat examined promptly if you notice any problems at
home. Pictured below is an overweight rat. Inappropriate
diet and exercise will lead to this problem.
Sometimes the only
hint that your rat gives you that something is wrong is an un-kept
coat. This rat's coat is yellowing with grease from
follicular secretions. He is not feeling well enough to keep
himself clean. Pictured below is pododermatitis.
We see this syndrome associated with improper footing or caging.
free to call us at 847-329-8709
[ !! Emergency Care !! ] [ About Us ] [ Care sheets ] [ Contact ] [ Vets, Externs & Shelters ] [ Products ] [ Links ] [ Happy Turtle Stories ] [ Katrina Refugees ] [ Year of the Turtle ]